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Your Child Today: 2 to 3 years

Sorting Out Sugars: How to know which sweets are good, better or best

Infants and children are sugarholics by nature. Kids crave sweets because they need a lot of energy. Half the calories in human milk?the nutritional standard?comes from sugars. Nutritionally speaking, there is no such thing as a bad sugar.

It's how it is processed and packaged that determines whether it is good, better or best for your child.

Which Sugar Is Which?
Refined sugars go by the names of glucose, dextrose and sucrose. This is the sweet-tasting stuff in the sugar bowl, in candy, syrup and other commercial foods. A small amount of these sugars won't harm a child.

These simple sugars contain only one or two molecules and require little or no digestion. So when a spoonful of sugar hits the intestines and immediately enters the blood stream, the roller coaster ride begins. High blood sugar triggers the release of insulin?a hormone needed to escort these sugars into the body's cells. The high blood sugar is tackled rapidly, causing the sugar level to plunge to a sugar low (also known as hypoglycemia or "sugar blues"). This low blood sugar triggers stress hormones that squeeze stored sugar from the liver, sending the blood sugar back up. These ups and downs result in a child's roller coaster-like behavior.

Check out alternatives to refined sugars. For instance, replace a cup of sugar in an apple pie with fruit-juice concentrate or honey. These contain fructose and small quantities of vitamins and minerals. When substituting for sugar, use half the amount the recipe calls for. (Avoid giving honey to infants before they're 1 year old because of the risk of botulism.)

Fructose sugars, obtained primarily from fruits, are "better" because they don't excite the hormone roller coaster as do refined sugars. Milk sugar, or lactose, also enters the blood stream more slowly than the refined stuff.

The best sugars are complex polysaccharides, better known as starches. These include pasta, peas, potatoes, beans, grains, rice, soy beans, millet, lentils, seeds and nuts. These nutrients enter the intestines like a long line of simple-sugar molecules holding hands. They enter the blood stream one by one, providing slow, steady energy.

Shaping Young Tastes
For the first three years, my wife and I exposed our babies' young taste buds to only healthy foods. We avoided added salt, table sugar and unhealthy fats. When Matthew entered the sugar-coated world of birthday parties he had sticky fingers, but he didn't overdose. Now our children know to scrape off the frosting and just eat the cake.

Health-food-primed babies seldom overindulge later in life. That's the best we can hope for in raising a healthy kid.

?William Sears, M.D.
Author and pediatrician

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